Cool Stuff

Resizing Images for a Twitter Stream [text]- this goes in the “useful tip” category. I’ve had issues with adding borders to images to get them to a certain size; I have various methods that DO work, but I really like the command line approach. ImageMagick FTW.

Announcing my new book: NOSE DIVE, coming October 20 [text] – Harold McGee, of “On Food and Cooking” fame, publishes a new book this month, and I’m there for it.

The Salty Death Of My Trusty Camera [photos, text] – Dave lost his camera in a salty water accident, which is sad, but his blog post is funny, so it’s less sad.

Tabloid:  The Clickbait Headline Programming Language [text] – because it made me giggle.

I am Allie Brosh. My main abilities include writing, drawing, caring, and hiding, but you can ask me whatever you want. AMA [text] – Allie Brosh did an AMA on r/books and I liked browsing though that.

In that AMA, she talked about Simon Stålenhag [images]- who does oil-painting-looking retro-futuristic illustrations, which I do find utterly fascinating. He happens to have a Kickstarter running right now.

LEGO IDEAS – Earth Globe [text, images]- Lego is going to make a globe from the IDEAS project. As a fan of both globes and Lego, I’m very tempted. And so much potential for random worldbuilding 😀

New Scientific Papers Predict Historic Results for Commonwealth Fusion Systems’ Approach to Commercial Fusion Energy [text] – because I still have hope to see fusion energy, and this made me hopeful that it might happen in my lifetime 🙂

Minecraft as a k8s admin tool [text, short video] – because this made me laugh much harder than a lot of things this week.

Bill Gates demonstrates Visual Basic (1991) [short video] – because that also made me giggle.

Computer Scientists Break Traveling Salesperson Record [text] – there exists an easy polynomial algorithm that approximates the metric Traveling Salesperson Problem within a factor 3/2 (like, explaining the proof fully takes maybe half an hour on a blackboard?). For a few decades, it was also the best known. Apparently, now there’s a claim to do fractionally better (and it spans a few dozens of pages 😛 )

52Frames – 2020-40 – Blue

The theme for 52Frames this week was Blue. I tried different approaches but they were either not looking good or not blue enough; I’m not suuuuper convinced by this shot, but this is the best I have and I was out of ideas to make it better. So, there, have some curaçao.

And yes, I bought a bottle of curaçao because this week’s theme was Blue.

#balisebooks – Broken Genius – Drew Murray

A few months ago, there was a Big Idea feature about Broken Genius, by Drew Murray, on John Scalzi’s blog. I liked that the whole article was described as a series of “now how do I solve this plot problem”, it tickled my interest, I asked for it on NetGalley, and I did get it, yay 🙂

Special Agent Will Parker used to be a known Silicon Valley CEO; he’s now part of the FBI Cyber division. He gets called to investigate a murder at a Comic Con event – a murder that is linked to the possible reappearance of a portable quantum computer that was considered lost during the Fukushima nuclear plant accident.

Broken Genius is a very competent techno-thriller. The tech and the Comic Con are believable, and the story itself has enough plot at the right pace to make the reading very enjoyable. The characters are likeable – maybe a bit on the cliché side, but eh, still pretty cool. I was somewhat annoyed that I guessed one of the major plot points way earlier than the protagonists did – I’m normally VERY BAD AT THIS, so maybe there was one or two clues too much there 😉

But anyway. I have a pretty high suspension of disbelief in general, but it’s rare that I find fiction where modern-day technology plays a significant role, and that doesn’t make me roll my eyes loudly (yes, it’s absolutely a thing.) Broken Genius does that and is very enjoyable – it’s not the book of the year (or even the month) but is very much worth considering if you’re in the mood for a techno-thriller 🙂

52Frames – 2020-39 – Use a Tripod

The theme for 52Frames this week was “Use a Tripod”, with a side of “Create a composite”. Since I started using the Adobe tools, I hadn’t tested the focus stacking yet – so I fixed that.

This image is a composite of 40 exposures – taken, as expected, with a tripod and fixed exposure. The whole process of “importing/aligning/stacking” was handled by Photoshop in a very satisfying and automatic manner – I love it when a plan comes together. It did take a few minutes for each step, but for 40 high-res, non-compressed, frames, I would have half expected the whole thing to crash violently, so… I’ll absolutely take that 🙂

The stacked image made deeply and painfully obvious that I had been more than sloppy with preparing my background: it was VERY dusty. Nothing that was not fixable with fairly minimal effort, though.

And there, we have (focus-)stacks of coins!

Autumnal #balisebooks

GoodReads tells me I did achieve my 60 books goal for 2020 – and we still have a quarter in this year, so I may need to get a larger goal for next year 😉 Granted, there’s been quite a few shorter books so far in the year: there’s been more graphic novels/comics, as well as more novellas/novelettes/short stories than in the previous years (because I read most of the selection for the Hugos). Still, it’s been a while since I did a #balisebooks post, so let’s fix that.

The Wicked + The Divine – volumes 1 to 9 – Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matt Wilson

The Wicked + The Divine is a graphic novel for which the premise is that every 90 years, 12 gods incarnate as humans. These humans are essentially celebrities – with everything that goes with that – and they’re dying within two years.

I absolutely loved the first volume, but I was somewhat let down by the following volumes: I don’t know exactly what I was expecting for a story, but I felt disappointed, somehow. (I also got very confused towards the end). At least the story is complete and the ends are tied and the ending is actually satisfying.

It was still very good, and I fell absolutely in love with the art, which is GORGEOUS from start to end.

Before Mars – Emma Newman

This is the third book of the Planetfall series, which is a loosely connected series of books that happen in the same universe where a group of colonists left for a distant planet a few decades before. In Before Mars, we follow Anna, who’s the new artist in residence on the Mars colony. Anna quickly starts to observe things that make her question what’s really happening… and her own sanity.

This was fantastic, buuuut. I absolutely loved the idea of “psychological thriller on Mars”, and it’s very well executed. Generally speaking I loved the book, but up until the end I was scared it would go to a disappointing ending. It didn’t (actually, far from it), but I was scared of that. Now I’m not sure whether the issue is with my lack of trust or with the fact that what I was seeing as a possibility was not clearly eliminated as a possibility, but that made my reading slightly more uncomfortable because I was “I like this thing A LOT, but I’m afraid it’s going to go to a conclusion I don’t like and that it will make the whole thing significantly worse”.

It didn’t, and I’m happy with that; it’s also not a feeling I’m much used to, which kind of bothers me. All in all, a very solid addition to the series.

LaGuardia – Nnedi Okorafor and Tana Ford

LaGuardia is a graphic novel in which there exists sentient alien plants that are trying to integrate as they can on Earth. The main protagonist, Future, is very pregnant, and just left Nigeria while smuggling such an alien (called Letme Live) and arrives at the eponymous airport (and spaceport) to go live with her grandmother.

I loved everything about LaGuardia – it’s smart, it’s sometimes funny, it’s just the right amount of “in-your-face-political”, the art is great and the colors are superb. It won the Hugo 2020 for Best Graphic Novel, and I actually had voted for it in the first place, so that makes me happy 🙂

Atlas Alone – Emma Newman

In Atlas Alone (fourth book of the Planetfall series, see above) we get to follow previous characters of After Atlas. The book centers on Dee, the friend of Carl’s, the detective from After Atlas.

They are currently flying in a spaceship, where the major source of entertainment is mersives – and a significant part of Atlas Alone happens in such environments. This is the story of Dee learning more and more about her environment and how she reacts to it, within the context of her previous trauma.

I must admit that, for me, this was the weakest book of the series. All in all, this felt very, very dark, and I kept hoping for some glimmer of hope that I didn’t feel I got. Also as a nitpick: the turn of sentence “my face was a mask in front of a mask” made me cringe the first time; and it also made me cringe the second and third time I encountered it in the book 😛

However, I did like the environment and what Newman did with the mersives and in particular the whole idea of “leet” gaming. I also enjoyed seeing Carl again, and the role he had in this book. The plot was also very tight and kept me interested all along (and may or may not have led to a few “okay, one more chapter” at too-late-hours of the night).

Mooncakes – Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

Another graphic novel, you say? You bet. Nova is a teenager working part-time in her grandmothers’ bookshop. Said bookshop has a large “occult” section, and, oh, Nova’s grandmothers are witches. And, unexpectedly, Nova’s childhood friend Tam reappears, and they are a werewolf.

This was sweet and cute and, again, I loved the art. That’s actually one thing that reading a larger-than-usual amount of graphic novels in a short time taught me: I DO have opinions about their art, and it’s very important in my enjoyment of the form.

Middlegame – Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire’s In an Absent Dream was my favorite for the Hugo award for Best Novella, so that put Middlegame firmly in the top of the pile of the things I wanted to try to read before the Hugo voting deadline, since it was nominated for Best Novel.

In Middlegame, we get to meet Roger and Dodger. Roger has words for everything; Dodger has numbers for everything. They are twins, but they never met. And one day, they make contact – in their minds. Nothing is a coincidence: Roger and Dodger are part of a large alchemical experiment. As they grow up, they learn more about themselves, about their powers, and how the world may end up depending on them.

I did really like Middlegame, and I think it had a lot of things I like – intriguing setting, memorable characters, good writing. I did find it a bit long, but I have no idea if it’s because I’m in a bit of a hurry (I really wanted to read another Hugo nominee before I voted) or whether it would have been my opinion as well in other circumstances.

Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth was the book I had heard the most about before the Hugos (for which it was also nominated for Best Novel). The Emperor has called upon the heirs of all the necromancer houses for a trial of valor. The winner of the trial will ascend to a higher, immortal state of being; the losers may not survive. Harrowhark is the heir for the Ninth House; Gideon is her reluctant protector.

This was super good – loved the setting and the use of necromancy; loved the characters. But it took me a looong while to stop being confused about who’s who – the cast is quite large, and a given character will be called at least three different ways, which doesn’t help. There was also possibly more twists and turns in the last 20% than in the first 80%, and that was a bit exhausting. Also, I’m starting to realize I actually do not like long, epic scenes endings… and this definitely went into that category. So, let’s say that I loved 80% of it 😉

Deal with the Devil – Kit Rocha

I got excited about Deal with the Devil the minute I heard the title of the series (it’s a new series by the authors of the Beyond series): MERCENARY LIBRARIANS, HOW AMAZING IS THAT IDEA.

The global context is the same as in Beyond – post-apocalyptic US, where everything is more or less derelict, and people are scraping by the best they can. Nina and her team collect data from remaining data vaults, mostly redistribute it to whoever needs them, sometimes manage to score an interesting cache of sensitive data that they try to sell to interesting parties.

Knox and his team are ex-super-soldiers in dire need of a way to fix their brain implants before they go completely awry. The hacker that could handle that has been kidnapped; the price for Knox to get them back is to manage to deliver Nina to the kidnappers.

Both teams start working seemingly together; this is a Kit Rocha book, so there’s significant romance elements (I honestly don’t know if it’s a post-apo book with strong elements of romance or a romance book with strong elements of post-apo 😀 ) – not much surprise there.

It had less “librarian” content than I hoped but it was so so good! The fighting scenes read as choreographed (and I actually enjoyed them, although it’s not my usual cup of tea), I loved the characters and the setting, and I cannot wait for #2 🙂

A Memory Called Empire – Arkady Martine

A Memory Called Empire is the first book of a new series, Teixcalaan. Mahit, who comes from Lsel, a small mining station, is named ambassador to the Teixcalaan Empire, which is basically… most of the known universe. She gets summoned to her post, and quickly questions the demise of her predecessor, whose death is somewhat suspicious.

Lsel has an interesting technology, called imagos, where the memories of a person get transferred as a chip to another person. Mahit gets the imago of her predecessor, but since they’re bad with backups, or something, she gets an outdated version… which starts malfunctioning quite quickly. Thankfully, her liaison, Three Seagrass, is here to help her navigate court intrigue, poetry as a mean of communication, and what it means to be Teixcalaan (and to possibly be called Six Helicopter or One Lightning.)

A Memory Called Empire won the Hugo award for Best Novel; I hadn’t read it before voting, but this was very well-deserved. The world building is fantastic, the characters are endearing, the plot and intrigue were delightful, and I loved everything about this book. Another one for which I cannot wait for #2!

Other reads

  • Die, Volume 1 – Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans – A graphic novel where a group of role players gets catapulted in the world they’re playing into. I think it was good, but it was completely not my thing 🙂
  • Attachments – Rainbow Rowell – I had my reservations for a long while about the premise of the book (a “security” person monitors employee emails, shenanigans ensue) and, while this was better than I feared, it wasn’t very memorable.
  • Kiss my Cupcake – Helena Hunting – a cute romance about a cupcake-and-cocktail shop owner and her craft-beer-ax-throwing bar owner neighbor.
  • The Bride Test – Helen Hoang – Khai is autistic, and his mother tries to find him the perfect bride. She finds Esme, and offers her a deal: a summer in the US, no strings attached, under the condition that she tries to make things work with her son. This was pretty good, but I had a hard time connecting with Esme – Khai is often flabbergasted by her… but I must admit, so was I at times!
  • The Phlebotomist – Chris Panatier – in a world where people are supposed to give blood every couple of months and where the society’s class system depends on the people blood’s group, Willa learns disturbing truths that put her life and the one of her grandson at risk. A decent post-apocalyptic novel and a nice take on a common trope.

52Frames – 2020-38 – A Chair

The theme for 52Frames this week was A Chair. I’ll admit this is mostly a “placeholder shot” – took it today after 6PM “urgh, haven’t done 52Frames yet, I need to fix that”. We got a couple of balcony chairs since last year (and congratulating ourselves for them every day 😉 ); since they have a meshy texture, I thought it could be fun to take a picture of one through the second one. And, there.

52Frames – 2020-37 – Single Focal Point

The theme for 52Frames this week was Single Focal Point, with an extra credit of f/1.4. Pierre made some pie this afternoon – so I took the liberty of bothering him with my camera while he was doing that.

Since I wanted the extra credit, I took my only lens that’s able to open to f/1.4, which is a non-macro 50mm, which made focusing somewhat difficult: I have been shooting with a macro lens a lot lately, and this one has a much longer focusing distance! But eventually, I got there.

I ended up taking 300 pictures – and the one I chose was the last one 😉 So I guess I’m titling this one “Finishing touch” – that’s the last piece of pear that goes on that pie! Oh, and if you want the recipe for the pie, my husband wrote it down 15 years ago in French here: Tarte poire / frangipane / chocolat 😉

Cool Stuff

One Photographer Captures Holland’s Beautiful Tulip Gardens Without Any People Around [photos] – because I can definitely do with more pictures of pretty flowers.

Sculpt the World [photos] – the website of Jon Foreman, who creates art with stones or leaves or broken glass or sand or… It’s very geometric, very pretty, and it tickles my brain just right. I especially like his Stone gallery.

Arrows of Time [mostly text]- a series of chronologically sorted factoids about the human understanding of time.

IKEA kataloger [images] – IKEA released their catalogs from 1950 to 2020, and it’s pretty neat to look at. I did find PAX cabinets/placards in 1955 😉

A Time Leap Challenge for SAT-Solving [text, PDF] – Fichte, Hecher and Szeider decided to have a little competition: “what runs better, 20-year-old SAT solvers on modern hardware, or modern SAT solvers on 20-year-old hardware?”. Lessons learnt: archeology is hard, and both hardware and software progressed enormously for SAT solving. Also there’s an XKCD in the bibliography, so.

NSF’s newest solar telescope produces first images [images, text]- there’s been some pretty Sun images from the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope.

The Awesome Piano – Peter Bence [short video] – that is a very cool music video. And if you don’t know Peter Bence, I can only encourage you to have a look at his YouTube – here, have a cover of Under Pressure, for instance.

Box [short video] – “so, I have a bunch of projectors and robot arms, what could I do with them…?”. Worth watching in full-screen 🙂

Fresh Guacamole by PES [short video] – hmmm. Cooking in stop motion. Made me watch a very large set of videos on that channel, didn’t regret any of them, this is brilliant. The Deep by PES is also super neat.

Okay, the Dune trailer [short video] looks pretty good. Understatement.

Diorama: A Tutorial [text, images] – a series of 4 articles (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4) from my fellow Scavenger Dave DeBaermaeker, where he explains step by step how to make a small diorama to create a wall at scale for toy photography. That actually looks… surprisingly feasible 😉

52Frames – 2020-36 – Combine three challenges

The 52Frames challenge this week was to “Combine three challenges” – with the list of the previous challenges for this year thankfully provided. I’ve been trying to keep the list in my mind for most of the week because I knew that I needed to think about what I wanted to do. I went through several ideas, but in the end I guess that a couple of things clicked.

I’ve done enough portrait/self-portraits to be very annoyed at stray hair; so for once I really wanted to embrace these. And by that, I mean that I did brush my hair a lot so that they’d get more electric and have more texture.

I’m also currently watching Glee, and in one of the episodes that I watched this week, there was someone who was backlit on a dark background, and it did make me go “huh. I should try that.” The places where you find new things to try 😉

Anyway – I started playing with a spot, a tripod and a black curtain, with the objective of shooting 1/ Self-Portrait 2/ Low-Key 3/ A Different Angle. And I guess that we have bonus Details and Negative Space in there too 🙂

52Frames – 2020-35 – A Common Object

The theme for this week’s 52Frames was “A common object”, with an extra credit for “One light source”. So I locked myself in my room, closed the door and blinds, got a Lume cube and a pair of earphones (which I thought would yield both some texture and some shape), and got to work.

It took me a little while to find the “right” angle – suspending the earphones on top of the light ended up being the right move for me.